December had come again to the mountain hamlet of Temperance. It had been an unusually warm Autumn, and as the days marched by, there was no indication that snow was anywhere to be found.
It reminded many people of the December of 1918 when the unwelcome specter of influenza arrived in a snowless December. When the malevolent shade finally faded weeks later, 30% of the hamlet’s inhabitants had died.
At the train depot George Thompson walked up and down the Northern red oak platform as he checked his grandfather’s pocket watch. The noon sun reflected off the solid gold engraved case.
“Blasted train! Late again,” he mumbled to himself.
The year before, he had been waiting for his brother-in-law William Phillips to arrive. This time he was waiting to greet one of William’s European friends who was coming for Christmas.
Like last year from around Evans Bend, he heard the whistle. “Twenty minutes late,” he stated impatiently. “Twenty minutes which can never be recaptured. Blasted engineer! Betsy should have fired him long before this.”
Then a smile crossed his face as he thought about Betsy. Betsy Tarrwater and William were married by him in a civil ceremony after the recent Thanksgiving.
On their honeymoon in Europe Betsy had wanted to be married in a religious ceremony in Oberndorf bei Salzburg where Joseph Mohr and Franz Xaver Gruber had created the beloved Christmas hymn Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht (Silent Night, Holy Night) on that cold night in 1818 when the organ died, and its death gave the inspiration for Joseph Mohr’s two-year-old poem Silent Night to be used for the occasion.
Without saying, it was the favorite Christmas Hymn that Betsy, William and Henry Blake Hunt had cherished as they grew up in Temperance. It was sung at Henry’s funeral in 1918—100 years after its first performance.
As the train pulled into the station, Charles Piper, the conductor, greeted George. Charles could tell that George was miffed once more by the late arrival.
Before George could utter his famous tirade, Charles stated, “Cornelius Daniels’ goats were on the tracks once again, which delayed us.”
“Marcus Daniels is the Sheriff, and he cannot control his own brother’s goats. People have complained about this to him numerous times!” George exclaimed.
“You could always run for Sheriff next November, George.” Charles replied with a grin.
George stared at him for a few seconds and responded, “It’s a thankless job. People are always complaining.”
Charles realized that George did not detect the irony in his statement. “Sure is,” Charles smiled. “Always complaining.”
A tall man in his early thirties had stepped off the train and had been listening to the amusing exchange between George and Charles. He looked around and thought, “So this is Temperance. Just like William described it to the iota.”
George noticed the man. “You must be Professor Josef Pavelka.”
“I am, and you must be George Thompson based on William’s apt description.”
Charles smiled and surmised to himself, “Apt description hits the right spot for George.”
“I hope you don’t mind, Professor, but I thought a walk to the house would be needed after such a long train ride,” George stated.
“Agreed! These legs need exercise after three days of train travel from your beautiful Boston—lovely old city and rich in history.”
“Your luggage will be delivered later today to the house,” Charles stated.
“Will that be Roscoe Smith delivering, Mr. Piper?” The Professor inquired.
“Very good. I have a present for him and his wife Elsie. William has told me so much about the gentleman and his hardships at the hands of those špatní lidé.” The Professor saw the confused looks on their faces. “Ruffians or bad people.”
Charles and George looked up at the Ballard mountain fortress. “Precisely,” George replied.
As they started for the Thompson House, the Professor asked if they could stroll through the downtown if George had the time. George said that he had no cases until tomorrow, and a stroll would be nice.
The professor was curious to see the reindeer in the town center. He had heard so much about this unusual activity before Christmas.
As they neared the corral, George saw Bobby Owenby feeding one of the reindeer. “This should be interesting,” George thought.
After introductions, the Professor asked Bobby if he knew where Charles University was located.”
To the Professor’s surprise and George’s amusement, Bobby related the history of the University and the recent created Czechoslovakia. Bobby asked, “Do you know the scholar President?”
“President Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk and I are old friends. He was my mentor. It was his late wife Charlotte Garrigue who introduced me to my future wife Anna Pitlik in 1905.” There was a tone of sadness in his voice which George noticed.
William had told Vesta and George that Josef Pavelka’s wife Anna and his two children Frantiska and Katerina had died during the Influenza Pandemic. So many lives had been lost to that virulent malady.
After about a half-hour of conversation George and the Professor continued the walk to the house. “Delightful young man, that Bobby is. Would love to have him as a student.”
“True, he is a delight. My Tommy and Charles’ son, Jamie, have improved greatly in school from their association with Bobby,” George responded.
At the house George introduced the family to the Professor. He could not help but notice the way the Professor looked at Imogene and vice versa.
“More lovely than William’s description of his sister,” the Professor thought. “So much like my beautiful Anna, a delicate flower covered by the first snow of Winter and the refreshing dew drops of Spring.”
Imogene and the Professor began a conversation about Europe and the aftermath of the Great War. She wanted to know about the social rumblings in Germany.
He was unaware Vesta Thompson had ushered the children and her husband out of the drawing room so the two could have their conversation in private. In the conservatory George asked Vesta what was going on here. He wanted to be part of that conversation about Europe’s politics.
Vesta smiled, “George, Imogene has too many admirers unsuitable for her in this town. William and I are hoping for a spark with this European Gentleman. William has a high regard for him.”
“Gracious!” He exclaimed. “Conflagration would be a more correct term based on what I saw just now between the two of them.”
“I hope so, my dear, I truly hope so.” Vesta was thinking about the inordinate fascination that Alasdair Ballard had in Imogene. She was determined to protect her young sister from such a baleful man and his wicked family.
The ten days went way too fast in Josef’s view. He and Imogene had spent numerous hours in conversation, and with each encounter he felt that love could flourish once again in his barren heart.
After supper he and Imogene had gone for a walk to the town center. The sun had set with its chromatic array of colors over the mauve mountains.
The reindeer were a bit anxious. Imogene said, “They can sense a change in weather.”
“Delightful creatures,” Josef replied with more than one meaning. Mustering up the courage, he asked, “Miss Thompson, I was wondering, and I hope that I am not being too audacious, you have no—what’s the word that you use here?”
Imogene looked at him and smiled. “Beau?”
She smiled again. “Your question was not too audacious—just bodacious.”
Josef laughed. It had been a long time since he laughed.
Turning serious, Imogene stroked the head of one of the reindeer as she stated,
“In high school Albert Ballew was my beau. We planned to be married after graduation, but he died from the influenza outbreak. I almost died as well, but Betsy Tarrwater would not give up on me.”
Josef could sense the pain in her voice, and the tears she was holding at bay. “We both have suffered loss from that tormenting plague.”
Imogene looked at him and said, “Tell me about Anna and the children.”
“They were the joy of my life, and I miss them so much.” For the next hour Josef told about his family.
In the night shadows the old reindeer herder stood listening to the conversation. He knew that both Josef and Imogene were two lonely souls encompassed by the grief of loss.
Love is difficult to resurrect in a hurting soul. Sometimes, it takes more than a spark to rekindle the eternal flame of love in hearts broken by the vicissitudes of cruel fate.
“There is a wintry smell in the air,” the old reindeer herder declared as he walked up to them.
“The reindeer can sense it as well, “Imogene replied.
“True, my dear child, reindeer can always sense when the air is changing as Christmas Eve approaches.”
“You must be the herder of these magnificent creatures,” Josef asked with a tinge of knowledge.
“Sometimes, they herd me more than I them. You must the visiting Professor from Charles University, a most charming place.”
“You have been to the University?”
“In my younger days Europe was one of my favorite layovers, and I visited a number of places.”
As they talked, Imogene walked to the other side of the corral to feed the reindeer. She had a lot on her mind, especially concerning Josef.
“William tells me that you bring these creatures here every December, and they mysteriously disappear on Christmas Eve.”
“There is always a mystery on Christmas Eve.”
“My Anna would always say that as well. My children would have loved to have seen them.”
“Did not Frantiska and Katerina tell you one Christmas morning that they had seen reindeer from their bedroom window?”
Suddenly, Josef remembered that from their last Christmas together. He smiled, “I had forgotten that.”
“Sometimes, memories buried under grief have to be awakened. One has to grasp what joy there was in the radiant faces of the children who embraced belief in the magic of Christmas. Older people forget the magic.”
“True, Christmas has magic for children,” Josef sadly replied.
“Adults can embrace that magic as well if their hearts allow, Josef.”
Josef was about to reply when Imogene rejoined them.
“You two should be on your way. Vesta may worry, and we cannot have anyone worrying before Christmas Eve, and who knows what George will say.” Imogene and Josef laughed at the mention of George.
“But before you go, would you like a warm cup of peppermint tea? The kettle should be ready by now.”
Josef and Imogene were overwhelmed by the aroma of the peppermint tea. Strange, they thought, they had not noticed it earlier.
As the reindeer herder handed them the cups of tea, he said with a twinkle in his eyes, “This is the Mrs’ special recipe with a touch of North Star dust, she tells me.”
“Delicious,” Josef declared. “Never had anything like this.”
Imogene smiled. She had had this tea from the reindeer herder the Christmas before she left for college, and she remembered his encouraging words about being so far from home—“Always keep Temperance in your heart, my dear one. Remember it always, and it will bring you home once again.”
Once the tea was over, they said their good-nights. On the way to the house Josef asked Imogene the name of the old reindeer herder.
Imogene thought a moment and replied that his name had never been mentioned from what she could remember. They both thought that was strange, but it was just another mystery.
Christmas Eve came with all the festivities and good tidings. Josef had something on his mind—the old reindeer herder. Something troubled him about their conversation, and there was something in the recesses of his mind which wanted to be remembered.
After supper he excused himself and went down to the corral. As William had told him, the reindeer were gone.
Bobby Owenby was there. “Bobby, I see they are gone.”
“Yes, Professor, ten minutes ago.”
“What the name of the old fellow, do you know?”
Bobby looked at him with a grin. Raising his left index finger up, Josef turned his gaze upward as the first flakes of snow began to fall.
“Snow on Christmas Eve is magical in Temperance, my old friend Josef,” a robust voice said above him in the snow clouds. “As Anna would always say to Frantiska and Katerina as they lay in their beds on Christmas Eve—‘Belief and love are the magic of Christmas’. Josef, your journey has been one of sadness for eight years. It is time to listen to your heart once more.”
Above them the reindeer bells were tinkling as the mountain winds brought the snow. Truly, it would be a white Christmas in Temperance as well as a new found love between two hungering souls starved by grief.
From the hamlet of Temperance may you have a Christmas blessed with joy and peace. May your home be filled with love.
May this Christmas Eve and Christmas day find you blessed with generosity of spirit. May you live Christmas well by sharing your gold and myrrh and frankincense.
May your Christmas gift come when your time is right. May you have a joyful Christmas!
Live Christmas well. Merry Christmas!
God bless you everyone!
G. D. Williams © 2018
Miss Imogen Phillips: A Temperance Short Story
A December Surprise For Egidius: A Temperance Short Story
The Uliginous Trophy: A Temperance Short Story
The Apollo-Whitman Question: A Temperance Christmas Short Story
The Broken Windows on Christmas: A Short Story
Professor Phillips Comes For A Christmas Visit: A Short Story
The Attic’s Secret: A Christmas Short Story
Mrs. Thompson’s Missing Rhubarb Pie: A Short Story
A Knock at the Shop’s Door: A Christmas Eve Short Story
The Christmas Gift—A Short Story